Pigspurt’s Daughter, Daisy Campbell @ Hampstead Theatre

11th – 14th July 2018
Written and Performed by Daisy Campbell

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In Pigspurt’s Daughter, Daisy Campbell marks the 10-year anniversary of her father cult theatre figure Ken Campbell’s death.

At the beginning of the show, Daisy Campbell tells us that she has been putting off sorting through the artefacts of her father’s theatrical legacy for the decade since.

The stage reflects this, boxed shelves display comedy props such as Ken’s joke-shop dick nose and laughing mirror (his cure for depression), posters from his many shows, media quotes, close-ups of his buttocks shaped nose, his notebooks, The Illuminatus Trilogy that he famously adapted, and other texts that have informed his work; a shrine-cum-studio-cum-storage unit amongst which Daisy performs her first one-woman show.

Daisy invokes her father’s legacy as a comedic genius and experimental theatre-maker, telling his stories; performing a nasally Ken Campbell instantly recognisable to the audience. Daisy’s childhood was spent watching her father’s one-man shows, hanging out in the Hackney Marshes where they lived on their boat The Snark, and attending Robert Mckee’s Story Structure Course. Daisy has used this education to architect a memoir fitting of a master storyteller.

Daisy Campbell is a spell-binding performer – confident, charismatic and enticing as she weaves together seemingly disparate events and ideas into a swirling tapestry of meaning (and mycelium). Early in the show Daisy relates the findings of the split-self experiments of neuroscientist Gazzaniga, the contents of which she encountered in an old documentary narrated by her father. Daisy explains that there is a gap where the self should be and what in fact inhabits that gap, according to Gazzaniga, is our interpreter, or as Daisy prefers to put it, her storyteller. The storyteller’s job is to make sense of the world, creating the illusion of meaning and purpose, only masquerading as the Self. As Robert Mckee puts it, the story exists in The Gap between expectation and what’s really happening. Incidentally, Mckee thought Ken Campbell was the greatest storyteller he ever met.

Daisy becomes suspect of her own storyteller and its “soap-opera sensibilities”, and decides to feed it a glut of story set-ups, mystifying it by handing out tarot cards to friends without explanation or the possibility of pay-off, challenging the storyteller’s ability to produce meaning, and so in over-drive, it finds meaning in everything. Daisy reports how things get weird when you mess with your storyteller, but this is just the beginning as Daisy begins to see and find Gaps everywhere.

Through a series of semi-serendipitous events, threaded together like the hyphae of the recurring image of the mycelium, Daisy is possessed by her father’s demonic character Pigspurt, (from his Evening Standard Critic’s Choice Best Comedy awarded show at the National Theatre of the same name) through an accident of gastromancy, a rectal invocation of dead spirits. (In the original NT production of Pigspurt, the demon is finally exorcised when Ken finds the female buttocks that matches the shape of his nose.)

Her father as Pigspurt takes over the voice of her storyteller, making a deal with Daisy that she can use Ken’s old stories if she promises to drive the story to the end of the line, to find Robert Mckee’s Negation of the Negation, and so to go farther than her father. So naturally, Daisy begins seeking the solution to exorcise Pigspurt, to get her father out of her arse so she can then figuratively get out from inside his arse and locate her missing Self. Daisy references the disappointment she was to Ken for not becoming a Russian gymnast or someone who whazzes particles together at CERN in Switzerland.

If the ideas in the show seem dense, complex and the allusions sometimes lofty, they are. But Daisy Campbell is a compelling, warm guide through these entwined ideas, inventing the perfect theatrical vessel to honour her father, and the worldview and stories she inherited from him. And she’s just so outrageously funny doing it, her charm, irresistible; on the knife-edge between child-like and preternaturally canny.

The play crept up on themes of grief, loss and love without a hint of the performative pain that sometimes rides shotgun to these topics, addressing instead the feeling that is revealed by these experiences, of a collapsing narrative; and the sensation of a Gap where your Self should be.

And while you might be tempted to reduce the piece to its thematic jus like I have just done, the strength of the work lies in its refusal to be simplified. The power of the story is in its swirling associations and circuitous exploration of the Gap and the Self, complicating the need for definition with its form, artfully hijacking narrative to ultimately discredit it.

Daisy both questions the compulsion to create meaning and fill “the Gap” while also enriching the autobiographical show with the many fictions that were the foundation of Ken and Daisy’s relationship. While it’s very clever, it’s also just full of really entertaining, outlandish micro-stories and robust comedy.

Daisy does provide Act 3 pay-offs, the Negation of the Negation turns out to be something hilarious and disturbing, performed in Ken’s old fat-suit. The subsequent resolution is so Hollywood and comparatively clichéd within the overall show, that fresh surprise is found in the obviousness of its revelation; a tongue-in-cheek ending provided after Daisy has spent the last 2 hours challenging our desire for a recognisable narrative arc (re:protuberance). As Daisy confirms in conversation with her dead father, she made narrative the antagonist. Her way of seeing the world, a hallucinogenic.

The structure may at some points feel convoluted, but I think this show is comedic, meticulously crafted genius and a joyful ride from start to finish. You don’t need to be familiar with Ken Campbell’s work, Daisy does a fantastic job of bringing the man to life in front of you, and produces a show that services the idea of him as a beloved public figure while still illuminating a relationship, if peculiar, between a child and parent who was larger than life, and the need to live up to and beyond them.

As Ken Campbell used to say, “Critics never tell the truth, namely that in actual fact it’s all bollocks”. As I couldn’t resist such an easy feed, this show is hilarious, human, esoteric, relatable, dizzying, exceptional bollocks.

31 August        The British Library, London

9 September   Slung Low’s The Hub, Leeds

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Shitfaced Shakespeare: Romeo & Juliet @ Leicester Square Theatre

Developed by Magnificent Bastard Productions
Original Direction and adaption- Lewis Ironside
Director and Lead Producer- Stacey Norris

23rd June- 1st September- Leicester Square Theatre

A Great Night out

shtfaceshakespeare-copyright-al-overdrive-700.jpgMagnificent Bastard Productions have been running shitfaced Shakespeare for eight years. The show is always a hit and a must see at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The unique idea behind Shitfaced Shakespeare is that one actor is outrageously drunk. The other four or five actors are all completely sober and have to stumble their way through the piece. This year it was the turn of the famous love story ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

The actor who is drunk changes each night. Last night it was Juliet who was drunk which was very funny. The actress was an entertaining drunk and came across well, she was very likeable. The first half of the play was great and the audience were in hysterics. The rest of the cast are very strong, particularly Romeo who was very quick at improvisation when Juliet threw some tricky situations his way.

However, as the play went on the focus began to drift and the play got a bit hectic. I feel the company need to add something different and exciting in the second half of the play to keep the audience engaged. This performance was very funny but there were too many sexual innuendos from sober cast members which were not needed.

Shitfaced Shakespeare is a great night out and a must see for all comedy fans. I believe it would be enjoyed more by those who are not sober. So grab some drinks and a couple of mates and enjoy Shakespeare as the man himself would have wanted you too.

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GUY, Leoe&Hyde @ The Bunker

Music, Production by Stephen Hyde

Book, Lyrics by Leoe Mercer

Directed by Sam Ward

16 June – 7 July

GUY is a fun, fresh musical about friendship, love and Grindr. The music was slick, catchy computer pop – think SOPHIE and Sam Smith – and the lyrics were packed with word play and nerd references. It’s a minimalist show, with four actors, an almost empty set and a pre-recorded score but it does so much with this. Each actor displayed a polished, engaging performance – singing, dancing, deploying excellent comedic timing and dramatic chops. I couldn’t identify a stand out performer, since all four were strong talents who were a joy to watch.

It speaks to the the paucity of media by and for queer people, but it was relieving to see a story with no straight people in it. It’s not a story about homophobia or coming out or finding your identity, or even AIDS – all worthy stories to be sure, but it’s nice to see what’s essentially a gay rom-com. Which is not to say the story takes place in a queer utopia – Grindr, the story’s framing device, is famous for distilling racism, sexism and body dismorphia into the callous dismissal: “No fats, no femmes, no asians”. All these issues are identified and addressed in the show – there are shades of Cyrano De Bergerac in that so many characters feel they have to hide themselves from those they love due to perceived prejudice.

The show has the breezy positivity you want from a musical about falling in love, and the exceptional cast keep you engaged throughout an hour and a half run with very little lag. I recommend this show.

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Kiss Chase, Second Circle @ The Bunker

Written and directed by Hannah Samuels

Devised by the company 

11 June – 7 July

Kiss Chase is an interesting piece of interactive devised theatre which combines short monologues and audience participation to present varied and unique perspectives on romance and relationships.

At first glance, the theatre seems like it’s set up for an ice breaking, team building activity that corporate insists will be good for sales. It’s like speed dating, but less fraught by sexual tension. Audience are given numbered labels which correspond to a clip board that waits for them on a chair. Everyone starts the night with a partner, though we’re warned that we’ll be swapping throughout – the point is not to find true love, but just connection. There’s an emphasis, as the show progresses, on secrets: what kind are kept, and for what reasons.

Our “hosts” Ben and Ruth (well played by Topher Collins and Rayyah McCaul) are warm, if a little tense, and talk us through a series of activities designed to get you to spill your guts. There’s some kind of undercurrent between them throughout the show – not exactly romance, but something they need to talk about. Some of the guests are also playing roles – spotlighted and speaking their thoughts to the whole audience. Each of the actors were talented in their moment, and I expect fairly good at improvisation – one of my partners from early in the show turned out later to be a character, which made our conversation about our jobs both weird and impressive. Some audience members volunteered to share their own thoughts on relationships, and I would have enjoyed if this happened a little more. The show would benefit if there was more time and encouragement, because all the actual audience participation was fascinating.

There’s no particular plot or resolution to the show, which accurately reflects the real world – brief connections, half glimpsed secrets, unanswered questions.

It was an interesting, creative and fun show that felt at times a little underdeveloped.

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Machinal @ The Almedia Theatre

4th June-21 July 2018

by Sophie Treadwell

Directed by Natalie Abrahami

One of the best plays I’ve seen in a long time. 

Love!- What does it amount to! Will it clothe you? Will it feed you? Will it pay the bills?”

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Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 play ‘Machinal’ is set in modern day New York City and at times it is scarily relevant to the climate today. The directorial decision to set this play in the modern world makes for a very interesting and eye-opening evening.

Machinal is inspired by the true story of Ruth Snyder who was executed for murdering her abusive husband. The play is spilt into nine episodes which each give a different insight into the main character’s life e.g business, home and family life. These short bursts of action are intimate and explosive making the play very gripping throughout the entire piece.

The performances by the whole company are very captivating. The ensemble represent a machine in several scenes which is done flawlessly. The leads Emily Berrington and Jonathon Livingston are both excellent. There were times I felt hate for Jones (played by Jonathon Livingston) and both empathy and fear for Emily Berrington’s character. The characters are fascinating and it was very easy for me to connect with them.

The set design by Miriam Buether is stunning. A cleverly placed mirror gives another view of the stage which I found myself watching at times and this portrayed some beautiful imagery.

Every aspect of the theatre process comes together beautifully in this play and the whole piece feels like a machine, which perfectly represents life in a busy city. Emily Berrington’s portrayal of the main character leaves the audience to decide whether they believe she is a victim of circumstance and abuse or a mentally ill person. The eerie play finished on the line of ‘I will not submit’ which feels like a woman rebelling.

I would thoroughly recommend seeing this play for its interesting portrayal of the 1928 feminist play and the incredible set design.

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A Fortunate Man, New Perspective @ Camden People’s Theatre

Written and directed by Michael Pinchbeck

Thursday 14th June- Saturday 16th June- Camden People’s Theatre

Friday 22nd June- The Pound Arts Centre

Sunday 24th June- Blackfriars Theatre and Arts Centre, Boston, Lincolnshire

Wednesday 1st August- Sunday 26th August- Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe Festival

An intellectual look into a Country Doctor’s life

A Fortunate Man Matthew Brown credit Julian Hughes

New Perspectives Theatre Company have developed this play based on the book ‘A Fortunate Man’ by John Berger. The play follows the story of the day-to-day life of a country doctor, John Sassell. John Berger and Swiss photographer Jean Mohr created this book which is still widely read by medical professionals. Sadly, the doctor John Sassell killed himself after the book was published. The play also explores the doctor’s personal life and his mental heath.

The storyline of this play is interesting and the script is very good, some lines are direct quotes from John Berger’s book, and the quotes are very touching. However, it did feel like the audience were given a lot of information at once which made it hard to connect. The information was delivered through a microphone and read as if we were attending a conference. This style was clever but I feel the play would be more engaging if there had been more action on stage.

Both actors Matthew Brown and Hayley Doherty are strong and have a fantastic and energetic relationship on stage together. The performers and storyline make it easy for the audience to empathise with the doctor and also to feel involved in the community in which he lived in.

The set was quite plain and simple which worked nicely and fitted the piece. There are projections of both the life of Sassell but also of the NHS today. These pictures were interesting but the current ones of the NHS didn’t have much effect on the audience.

A very interesting play and an important story to be told.

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Adam & Eve, Broken Silence Theatre @ The Hope Theatre

Writer: Tim Cook
Director: Jennifer Davis
22 May – 9 June 2018

I walked out of this play feeling quite sure that I had seen some very affecting and high-quality theatre, but unsure what it had meant. ‘How many stars will you give it?’ asked my companion. ‘Four, I think, maybe four and a half,’ was my reply, ‘I just have to do some processing – figure out what its message was.’ On the Tube home we spent as much time discussing this play as we had watching it, and by the time I walked in my front door, my feelings towards it had completely changed. I’d realised some things.

Perhaps appropriately, this is much the same way that the play’s plot progresses. (It is going to be extremely difficult to review and discuss Adam & Eve without spoiling its ending or at least hinting at it, so maybe you should stop reading now if you want to maintain your ignorance in that respect.) Adam and Eve have recently moved to the country, where they have bought a house and gotten right down to the business of baby-making. Everything seems to be going ideally until Adam – a high school English teacher – is accused of having a sexual relationship with one of his students, a precocious, pretty teen called Nikki. For the most part, we follow Eve as she struggles to come to terms with this hammer blow that takes apart her happily domestic life, and as she tries to ascertain the truth. Are these allegations against Adam true? Partially true? Totally false? If false, why is Nikki making them? We see all three characters run a gamut of emotions and relationships throughout the space of the play, and their actors (Lee Knight and Jeannie Dickinson as the titular couple, with Melissa Parker joining them as Nikki) absolutely shine throughout. They build vibrant, entertaining, believable, flawed, and ultimately very human characters, with just the right touch of pathos at the right moments. Dickinson, in particular, creates an Eve who is both intelligent and naïve, capable and vulnerable, who stands up for herself yet clearly longs for affection and security. Watching her heart break throughout the play broke mine along the way.

The staging is minimalistic (a typically small and basic pub theatre room, capacity 50), with the audience forming the four sides of this theatre in the round/square – one row of audience seating is a church pew, a nice tie-in to the play’s theme of marriage. The only items on stage are two chairs, and basic props sometimes carried by the characters, such as an iPad, toothbrush, notepad, etc. Hovering above the stage space is a light installation, a cloud made of what looks like white wedding serviettes, which is illuminated in various different colours throughout the play. Yet despite the lack of setting markers, there is never any doubt where a scene takes place, and the plot, acting, and the quality of the dialogue is enough to make the sparsity of the stage space melt away into irrelevance. The pacing is excellent, the dialogue crackles, the story sucks you in, the characters are compelling, none of that is the problem.

The problem is that hidden under the well written play and all that high quality is an argument that is unethical, ugly, and regressive.

Again, I don’t want to spoil the ending, but let’s just say that in this play, Adam and Eve’s Eden is a happy, traditional, heteronormative marriage, with a mortgage and a baby on the way, and Eve ruins this by taking the poisoned apple offered up by an Old Nick who is effectively a strawman for a sort of vicious, misandrist hyperbole of third wave feminism. This play is inextricably enmeshed in the current climate of #MeToo and sexual abuse, but instead of punching up at the abusers, it is punching down at the survivors. It laces in all the arguments of ‘maybe the men who are accused are the real victims’, and ‘women have total power to ruin a man’s life with a nothing but a single accusation’ (which is statistically untrue, and even within the plot of this play I found it hard to suspend my disbelief there is chance authorities would have taken Nikki seriously given the paucity of hard evidence – but I digress), and ‘we can never know what the truth is when it’s her word against his, so it would be wrong to punish him’.

Not that any of this is particularly obvious – the irony is that this play is better at gaslighting and manipulation than any of its characters. All these messages are insidiously couched in a mimicry of #MeToo and third-wave feminist rhetoric, which is then undercut and subverted into the polar opposite.

It’s a well done play, but rehashing the story of the Fall of Man with no changes to the gender dynamics, except to portray the devil as a young woman, is not fresh or original. A story where women are either weak and fallible or scheming home-wreckers who use their sexual attraction to manipulate and punish men is not original. Even this story’s twist and the characters’ names are not original – they are almost identical to those of The Shape of Things by Neil Labute. The parallels to Jane Eyre would have been a nice touch had they not been manipulated to push an agenda less progressive than the novel written hundreds of years ago. So despite the excellent acting, production values, and overall quality of Adam & Eve, I cannot give it four and a half stars that all these things merit; but neither will I let my overall rating be wholly determined by my moral objections to the play’s values and lack of originality.

You’ll have to be satisfied with a solid three.

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Three Sisters (Tour), RashDash/Royal Exchange Theatre @ The Yard

22 May – 9 June 2018
The Yard, Hackney

12 – 16 June, 2018
Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol

Turning classical theatre upside down in the most brilliant way.

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Feminist theatre company RashDash take on Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov and turn it into a modern version with a new perspective with a drum kit, electric guitars and a brilliant sense of daring and nerve.

This version was a wonderful example of taking a classical play, turning it on its head and adapting it to fit a young 2018 audience. There are lots of Theatre companies which try to adapt classical plays to fit a modern audience, most commonly to be set in a modern environment but the majority are all very similar to each other. However the RashDash adaptation was original, absurd and hilarious. It was an almost perfect example of a classical play adapted to fit a modern audience.

RashDash strip the male parts out of the play and focuses on the titular sisters and the relationship between them. Olga, Masha and Irena are played by Abbi Greenland, Helen Goelen and Becky Wilkie, who each are exceptional actors, whose on-stage relationships are wonderful and full of natural chemistry. The play explores what the three sisters would talk about if they lived in our current society, the dialogue was very relatable and funny. It was fantastic to see recognisable ‘normal’ modern woman represented on stage. I cried with laughter at points in the show. The music too is exceptional, and the two actor/musicians Chloe Rianna and Yoon-Ji Kim were very entertaining.

This show is really fun. It’s filled with bright lights, nudity, funny conversations and some cracking music. It’s not only a great piece of theatre but also a great night out. Go and see this show to experience Chekhov as you’ve never seen it before.

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P, Soup-Stained Arts @ Wandsworth Fringe

19th-20th May 2018

Written, directed and performed by Leila Herandi
Wandsworth Arts Fringe Festival

Finding a job is hard. Keeping one is harder… well, for her it is anyway. Our [protagonist/antagonist] (delete as appropriate) is an eternal optimist who can’t see the world crashing around her for the rose-tinted glasses she doesn’t realise she’s wearing, as she naively bumbles her way through life.

Soup Stained Arts on their website say, ‘Creating an important dialogue doesn’t need to be a serious task’.

Which is beautiful and couldn’t more relate to what I saw on stage this evening.

Penned and performed by Leila Herandi, seamlessly moving from storyteller, ‘P’ (the character) and moving back to Leila, she brought such electricity to the small, under the arches space in Putney.

It was the story of a young woman, quite different and out of place in this world; navigating finding a job, being a young person (however strange) and falling in love in the strangest of ways. Shall I say strange again for strangeness’ sake?

This was an excellent and very different version of storytelling.

We made a vow as audience members at the start. Including to turn off our mobile phones.

One of the audience members was roped in to tick off the sequence of the story.

There were flashbacks.

An overhead projector from primary school days.

And halfway through a snack break.

Leila Herandi relished and rejoiced in the difference of ‘P’, the difference in this piece and the technical difficulties that occurred.

She brought perfection to the imperfections.

The story itself, was different and bizarre yet completely relatable to your own failings in love, life and growing up.

For me this is the best of fringe theatre, I had a little giddy moment where I smiled gleefully thinking ‘This is what I bloody love!’

It still feels like a work in development; which is a joyous thing and I’m excited to see how this show continues, grows and develops.

Look out for where this show, company and performer go next. You will not regret heeding my recommendation.

 

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Unexploded Ordnances (UXO), Split Britches (Tour)

15 – 19 May, 2018 @ The Barbican

by Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw, & Hannah Maxwell
Directed by Lois Weaver

More dates in Glasgow, Battersea and more – click here for details

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Photography by Theo Cote

 

 

American duo Split Britches bring their unique exploration of anxiety to our shores. UXO is a conversation about calamity, built heavily around the themes and imagery of Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).

The production is not your usual theatre piece, but rather a public discussion using theatrical elements. Audience members are invited onto the stage to form a ‘Council of Elders’ in a perfectly designed Dr. Strangelove Situation Room.

It’s an interesting show. It’s a look at that feeling of inescapable dread that seems to permeate everything nowadays. Cleverly, it uses the metaphor of unexploded ordinances as both symbol of the hidden dread around us, and of unexplored desires waiting to burst forth. Doom and hope.

The characters, inspired by George C. Scott’s General Turgidson and Peter Sellers’ President Muffley, are hilariously performed. Played by Weaver and Shaw, the pair give worthy tribute to some of the film’s iconic moments. They are wonderfully comic performers.

Lois Weaver duels as the night’s MC and head panellist to the ‘Council of Elders’. She leads the discussion, talking to the Council about their desires and fears (with social media being the overwhelmingly main concern tonight. As a non-elder I can’t help but feel our generations receive our existential dreads from vastly different places, but I digress…)

They provoked some interesting discussion, but as the show relies on its Council for its content, it’s at the mercy of those audience members to provide the meat of the show. It’s the audience that ultimately provides the biggest laughs and the most moving moments.

One problem with this is that not every audience member is created equal in the oratory department, and though managed well, not every audience member necessarily opens the lid on an issue with the same nuance. It also means that the discussion lacks a single direction therefore can’t go particularly deep.

On the other hand, some of the anecdotes and human moments that were brought to the stage tonight were often funny and really touching, and the mission to discuss these fears; to have an open public sharing of anxieties and attempt to find creative solutions, is an important one.

So yes, an interesting and thought-provoking show, though not one that gets the heart pounding.

 

 

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Tickets / www.barbican.org.uk/